We met in Bilbao, Spain for the EACR Conference on Cancer Metabolism in October 2022, and were delighted to award a number of EACR-Worldwide Cancer Research Travel Grants to student and early career EACR members and cancer researchers in low or middle-income economy countries.

Travel Grants support researchers who need financial assistance to attend the conference and present their work as an oral or poster presentation. Each Travel Grant includes a free registration and funds to support travel and accommodation costs.

You can read below about the experiences that some of the winners had at these events.

Take a look at upcoming conferences here: www.eacr.org/conferences

1Debbie Moss

PhD student, Patrick G. Johnston Centre for Cancer Research, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland

Research: Colorectal cancer is the second largest cause of cancer-related deaths. The mainstay treatment is 5-Fluorouracil (5FU), a common chemotherapy, but therapy resistance is a major issue contributing to poor response to therapy. My research focuses on understanding how 5FU changes metabolic programs, which are responsible for growth and energy production, if such changes could help the cancer survive and grow after treatment, and if we could uncover an exploitable vulnerability that would increase treatment efficacy.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

My personal highlight was of course being given the opportunity to present my PhD project to such a prestigious and knowledgeable audience, who were able to give me feedback and ideas that will be very helpful whilst finishing up my lab work and preparing for my viva, as well as for our manuscript.

Were there any social or networking highlights you’d like to tell us about?

I really enjoyed the “Meet the Editors” session as it gave me a greater insight into how the process of submitting a manuscript, having it reviewed and hopefully eventually published, worked. This encouraged us to contact one of the editors after the conference and arrange a meeting to discuss our manuscript, which is in preparation. We wouldn’t have reached out without having attended this session.

How has the conference inspired you in your career?

All of the speakers were extremely engaging and approachable and their attitude and enthusiasm for their research was infectious, which was truly inspiring. The conference also provided ideas for my research moving forwards as one of the keynote speakers highlighted an enzyme, which would be useful for my current work. When we contacted him after the conference about this for further information, he was very receptive and helpful.

2Greta Metavalli

PhD Student, University Hospital Würzburg, MSNZ, Germany

Research: In my PhD project I aim to understand the role of lymph nodes in the development of metastasis of breast cancer. My project is focused on dissecting the role of stromal cells during metastatic dissemination and tumour immune evasion, focusing on the metabolites involved in this process. Using a multi-omics approach (including metabolomics), we aim to identify critical, tumour-stroma specific cellular communication that can be targeted.

Were there any social or networking highlights you want to tell us about?

I had the chance to meet and network with a wide variety of people. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to network with speakers, senior researchers and other PhD students. I was very happy to have the chance to meet with two of my favourite speakers, to discuss their projects and get feedback on my own.

Did you take part in any local or cultural activities in your free time outside of the conference?

I found Bilbao particularly interesting; just by walking around, you can get the positive vibes of this city. I had the chance to spend some time in the very charming and authentic old town, and enjoyed some amazing food (Pinchos are just the best!). I also visited the Guggenheim museum, which had been on my bucket list for a long time and I really enjoyed both the internal and external exhibitions. Last but not least, I took the funicular and I admired the beautiful view of Bilbao from above.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

During the conference I learned about many innovative techniques and experiments that I could use in my own project. When I returned home, I started to develop some new ideas for my project that I am currently starting. Also, the opportunity to interact with both speakers and poster presenters allowed the exchange of experimental protocols that will make easier to implement the new techniques in our lab.

When you got home, was there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about?

Once I got back to the lab, I was very enthusiast and motivated to work on my project. The week after coming back I organised a journal club where I gave my colleagues an overview of the most interesting papers that I heard at the conference. It was a great opportunity for all the lab members to be updated on the newest papers and on the current advances in cancer metabolomics.

3Kimberley Hanssen

Postdoctoral Researcher, Children’s Cancer Institute, Sydney, Australia

Research: High-risk neuroblastoma is an aggressive childhood cancer with low survival rates and survivors suffer lifelong debilitating effects from cytotoxic treatments. New, safer therapies are urgently needed. Like all human cells, neuroblastomas need the amino acid arginine for their growth. However, unlike normal healthy cells which can make arginine, neuroblastomas have often lost this ability and so rely on arginine from the blood. My research investigates whether lowering blood arginine levels using a human enzyme can starve neuroblastoma tumours while sparing normal cells.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

Meeting in-person researchers whose work I’ve followed for years was a great personal highlight of the conference for me. Everyone I spoke with was incredibly friendly and approachable and gave some great feedback on the work I presented in my poster. The talk by Prof Joshua Rabinowitz about the energy budget of tumours was also particularly stand-out for me – absolutely fascinating and so insightful, particularly for my current project.

Were there any social or networking highlights you want to tell us about?

After the last few years of online conferences and zoom meetings, the in-person discussions, especially during the poster sessions, were really helpful in moving ideas along and making new connections in a short space of time. There was a great diversity in the research that was presented in the talks and the posters from all corners of the world, and I was able to learn about different resources and techniques that I hadn’t come across before.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

There was lots of time worked in for networking over lunch and in the poster sessions, which gave lots of opportunities to meet new people, ask questions, and discuss data (and potential postdoc positions!). Everyone was very down-to-earth, you could meet and chat with anyone and everyone, including the organisers and invited speakers, and everyone was providing input wherever they could to help further the work of others.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

This conference has been really inspiring in solidifying how important changes in cellular metabolism are for transformation, metastasis, and resistance and in reinforcing the therapeutic potential of targeting metabolism in cancer. There’s so much still to learn and explore in this field but learning about the datasets and resources being generated and the new technologies/techniques being developed like spatial and single-cell metabolomics and Diricore was really exciting. I hope to incorporate more of these new resources and technologies in my work moving forward and to start collaborations with some researchers that I met at the conference.

4Lisa Vettore

PhD Student, University of Birmingham, UK

Research: Cancer proliferation often demands oxygen to the extent that the vasculature cannot supply, leading to tumour hypoxia. Through previous studies from our lab we observed that proline – a non-essential amino acid important for protein and collagen synthesis – is often increased in hypoxic cancers. Our results suggest that the cytosolic proline-producing enzyme, known as PYCRL, plays a role beyond proline synthesis in brain tumours. Indeed, the co-factor modulation connected to the enzymatic reaction of PYCRL is essential in supporting tumour growth. Inhibition of PYCRL in hypoxic brain tumours could therefore open new treatment opportunities for patients.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

The conference highlighted how the field of cancer metabolism is progressing, current ideas and what is needed for the future. It seems remarkable that the field of cancer metabolism is finding ways to become more translational, as illustrated by Joshua Rabinowitz who suggested a new creative approach to treat cancer patients by sustaining the metabolic activity of T cells instead of directly killing cancer cells. In the same way, Oliver Maddocks highlighted the translatability of his idea, proposing a specific serine/glycine diet that will be tested soon in the clinic.

Were there any social or networking highlights you want to tell us about?

The conference was a great opportunity to establish connections for my post-doc project, as I am trying to put together a grant application for January-February next year. I also had the opportunity to talk to other potential collaborators for my current project and get new suggestions and ideas for future developments.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

I really liked the talk from Theodore Alexandrov that explains the new progress being made in spatial and single-cell metabolomics. The idea was very fascinating and made us think about the advantages and limitations of our current metabolomics techniques and how the field of cancer metabolism will evolve in the future.

When you got home, is there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about?

It was great to see a lot of ideas and great research at the conference. In particular, I really liked the discovery of the iron transporter in hypoxia SLC25A37 by Sarah-Maria Fendt and the new way of seeing T cell therapy described by Joshua Rabinowitz, where the concept is to sustain endogenous T cells that are normally impaired during tumour growth by providing them essential metabolites for their survival.

5Natividad Alquezar Artieda

PhD Student, Second Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Czech Republic

Research: My research focuses on understanding the way the stem cells of the bone marrow can protect leukemic cells from the cytotoxicity of l-asparaginase, a crucial cytostatic drug in the chemotherapy of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The mentioned protective effect might reduce the effectiveness of ALL chemotherapy and contribute to resistance development to the chemotherapy´s drugs. Resistance development is among the causes of ALL´s patient relapse (15-20%). L-asparaginase affects the metabolism of leukemic cells. Therefore, we study their metabolic response to the drug in the presence of particular stem cells and other conditions of the bone marrow environment.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

I learned many things during the lectures, but the most valuable was that the scientists highly appreciated our research in the field. We are currently going through a long publishing process where we may have lost our trust in our conclusions. But the scientists’ comments at the conference prompted our motivation and made us believe again in our results.

Were there any social or networking highlights you want to tell us about?

I had a really interesting talk about the findings of my research with Johanna Chiche, who is the PI of a similar research group I am currently working with, and she offered to stay in contact to probably apply for a post-doc fellowship grant with her if our personalities fit.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

I got some ideas for research projects that are running in my research group. For instance, instead of starving our cells with some amino acids, try the opposite.

When you got home, is there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about?

Yes, this conference gave me a chance to give a flash talk to gain visualisation of my project and myself as a researcher. I immediately told my colleagues that it was overwhelming, but I did it as I had planned, and the organisers were friendly not to rush my speech.

6Shivang Sunil Parikh

Postdoctoral Researcher, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Research: We investigate how physical activity and exercise protects our body by creating metabolic challenges for the cancer cells by creating a metabolic shield making it difficult for the cancer cells to survive in this challenging environment.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

The best highlight for me were the quality of the lectures and the time which was designated for the questions at the end of each lecture. Also meeting the editors of Nature Communications and Nature Metabolism was the cherry on top.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

The conference was planned very well. The keynote lectures, expert talks that were selected for the presentation were amazing.

Did you take part in any interesting local or cultural activities in your free time outside of the conference?

I explored Bilbao by myself and traveled to the old city. I walked along the river to explore the beautiful city and my experience was fabulous.

7Yunus Akkoc

Postdoctoral Researcher, Koç University Research Center for Translational Medicine, Turkey

Research: Autophagy is a key biological catabolic event that is rapidly upregulated during cellular stress, providing cells with building blocks and substrates for energy generation, allowing them to survive unfavorable conditions. In recent years, attention to autophagy in tumor stroma, refer to as “autophagic tumor stroma” has created a new paradigm to understand the role of autophagy in cancer. However, mechanisms regulating autophagy in the tumor-stroma interaction context are not clear. Here we identified cancer-derived secreted factors as an activator of autophagy in carcinoma-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and these factors are crucial for tumour-stroma interactions, stromal fibroblast activation and cancer metastasis.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

After a long period of time without in-person meetings, EACR Cancer Metabolism was one of my first meetings abroad. The science that was shared at the conference was amazing, not only in talks but also in posters. What stood out the most was the time that was spared for the discussions. I have no remaining questions at all after the meeting.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

We have several projects that are involved in cell death research. Yet, I was not much aware of the connections between ferroptosis, amino acid sensing and lipid peroxidation in terms of regulating immunosuppressive or stimulant microenvironment. I was inspired by the talks and personal connections that I’ve made.

When you got home, is there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about?

In our laboratory, we have a system in which we shared our notes, highlights, and ideas following meetings that we attended. At the very first glance, I told them we should look for metabolites besides amino acids as mostly identified in the literature and their possible alterations by autophagic activity and thereby affect tumour metabolisms.

Have you brought back any specific knowledge that has benefited your research?

My research area of expertise does not directly involve in the study of metabolisms, yet one of my recently finalised projects brings the idea of studying tumour metabolisms in cancer metastasis. However, we had difficulties due to the limitations of the biological samples that we are interested in. After the meeting, I am now more convinced that we can perform detailed metabolic analysis, even with those limited samples almost at a single cell level.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Ever since becoming an EACR Ambassador, I’ve been wearing two hats. From the perspective of an attendee, I hugely enjoyed the science and being at the beautiful venue, however disseminating the news about this event (and others), especially in my home community, is also quite important for me. I aim to encourage graduate students and early career investigators to attend upcoming EACR events and let them know how inspiring it is to be a part of them.

Interested in EACR Conferences?

We organise a variety of excellent cancer research conferences, both in person and virtual, where the latest research topics and interaction for participants are the very highest priorities.

Make sure you add the dates of upcoming EACR Conferences to your diary now. Don’t forget we offer EACR member discounts on all of our registration fees!